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Authorities being called on to deal with environmental concerns at Villa Flat

Authorities being called on to deal with environmental concerns at Villa Flat

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Some residents of the Villa Flat area are calling on local authorities to take action against owners of some businesses that operate in the area, claiming that their actions are contributing to the degradation of the environment in their neighbourhood.

Ras Laurent Jacobs and Empress Modupe Olufunmi-Jacobs, a husband and wife duo,{{more}} spoke with SEARCHLIGHT recently about the issues that they and other residents have been facing for a number of years.

“All these things are being done without no kind of accountability whatsoever… I’m at the point of total frustration with all this stuff!” said Olufunmi-Jacobs. “There are a number of offenders here.”

The couple claims that several properties have been bought by a local proprietor and are being used as dumping grounds for construction refuse and old vehicles and trailers – among other things – which create breeding grounds for rodents and mosquitoes. The couple also complained about large copper vats on one of the proprietor’s properties that have amassed stagnant water.

Additionally, the Jacobses made claims that: boat yards in the area are spilling oil into the sea and allowing the removal of sand through their properties; local mechanics are dumping oil from vehicles in the neighbourhood, and spray painting vehicles – releasing fumes into the atmosphere; and several other smaller businesses (and even local residents) dump waste into the river that divides Villa Flat from Calliaqua.

The couple also alleges that the Villa Flat area is supposed to be strictly residential, with commercial practices prohibited.

“Unfortunately, we’re just like a voice crying out in the wilderness,” lamented Olufunmi-Jacobs. “There are people who are aware of it and they’re not going to do anything!

“Some people can get away with certain environmental damage, and others just not getting the support that we need.”

The Jacobses said that despite many verbal and written complaints to the Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment, the Physical Planning Unit, and the National Parks, Rivers and Beaches Authority, it does not seem as if any action is being taken.

The Jacobses also claim that the pollution of the sea along the coast has also been caused by waste dumped by yachts, hotels and members of the public.

Ras Jacobs said that an environmental profile report of St Vincent and the Grenadines that was published in 1990 called for the development of a new sewerage system along the coastal area that stretches from Canash to Indian Bay Point, but that this was never implemented.

“Nothing happened! No government has ever done it… it’s a serious issue,” he insisted. “We don’t want to mess up the tourist industry… we love our country.”

Andrew Wilson, director at National Parks Authority, said that the area, which constitutes the South Coast marine conservation area, has been earmarked to be developed into a marine park under the Caribbean Aqua Terrestrial Solutions project.

Wilson explained that management plans and communication strategies have already been drafted, and in January 2014, a water quality monitoring programme was commenced. He also said that education/awareness programmes will be rolled out this year, in collaboration with local agencies – with funding from international organizations.

Wilson noted that by the end of this project, the area will be zoned into different uses, and actively managed and monitored to restore and preserve the marine and terrestrial environment in that area.

“You don’t really have active management occurring [currently]… anybody could practically do anything in the area.”

He further explained that the project seeks to involve residents and key stakeholders in the process of managing the conservation of the area, and will address the degradation of the beaches, derelict boats, dumping of refuse into the river, and the restriction of public access to beaches, such as Virgen beach, among other issues.

“It will not be easy because some of these issues have been around for a good while… the area has such multi-usage,” said Wilson. “It’s a bit challenging, but it’s doable… it cries out for intervention.”

Shelford Stowe, senior physical planning officer, said that although the Jacobses are claiming the Villa Flat area is purely residential, the area has not yet been zoned; therefore, there is no current restriction on commercial usage.

“In the absence of a zoning plan, I cannot say that it is [purely for residential usage],” he stated.

Todd Lewis, senior environmental officer and supervisor of Vector Control (within the Ministry of Health), said that he is aware of the issues that residents have been experiencing, and that his Ministry is working in conjunction with National Parks Authority to address them.

Lewis said that in the past, reef assessments and a socio-economic assessment have been conducted in an attempt to help in rectifying the matter.

“From time to time, depending on the complaints that come in, we check on these things,” said Lewis.

He said that officers from his department recently treated the water in the copper vats to kill mosquito larva, but did admit that he had no knowledge of any of his officers checking on the mechanics who operate in the area.

Lewis said that bodyworks mechanics are required to spray paint vehicles in an enclosed area to minimize fumes from escaping, and that he intends to dispatch officers to monitor their operations.

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